Team’s rebound just as quick as dropoff

Minnesota appears to have put together a nice future after going 3-19 last year.

The rebuilding phase might be over sooner than expected for Minnesota’s women’s tennis team.

Two years removed from a Big Ten championship, the Gophers struggled to a 3-19 record after four scholarship players quit the team last season, leading Minnesota’s coaches to think it would take awhile to get the program back to respectability.

But this year, the Gophers have already surpassed expectations, holding a 4-3 record and bringing high hopes for the future of the program.

“The amount of progress they’ve made this year has been very surprising to me,” Minnesota coach Tyler Thomson said. “I didn’t anticipate that we’d be quite as good as we are right now.”

Minnesota’s most significant match to date was Feb. 18, when the Gophers defeated 45th-ranked Denver 6-1.

Thomson said the convincing win brought the team’s confidence level up and proved to the players they are capable of winning tough matches.

Much of the team’s success has to do with the emergence of junior Nischela Reddy as Minnesota’s No. 1 singles player.

After having a losing record at No. 2 singles last year, Reddy has lost just one match at No. 1 so far this year.

Going into the season, Thomson said, he was unsure whether Minnesota had anybody who could be successful at the No. 1 position.

“(Reddy’s) stepped up and not only been competitive but established herself as one of the best No. 1s in the conference,” Thomson said.

Reddy, the only player left from the 2003 Big Ten championship team, said she is more focused and motivated this year because she feels she has a high sense of responsibility for the entire team as its captain.

Other than Reddy, the rest of Minnesota’s starting lineup is filled with young players, including the freshman trio of Jane Anderson, Marina Bugaenco and Danielle Mousseau. This group has had an immediate impact as well as giving Minnesota a group of players to build on during the next few years.

“Last season was definitely hard,” Reddy said. “But I think we had to go through that phase to get here.”

Though this season’s team isn’t the most talented group Thomson has ever had, he said it has a large amount of potential because of its work ethic and willingness to improve.

The Gophers hope to finish in the top half of the Big Ten and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

More than that, in two years, Minnesota hopes to be back among the best in the Big Ten.

But for now, it’s just getting used to the renewed sense of achievement.

“I think it’s good to test success now,” Minnesota assistant coach Luciano Battaglini said. “Because I think 2006 and 2007 are going to be even better.”